Cyrus Colley on the Springfield to STL Road (Monograph 35)

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Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Home » Library » Monographs » Cyrus Colley on the Springfield to STL Road (Monograph 35)

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

By Dr. William “Bill” Ambrose

Cyrus Colley on the Springfield to St. Louis Road – The Trail of Tears in Pulaski County

Certainly, the Trail of Tears in Missouri did not follow established roads, did it?  All the images you’ve seen depicting the Cherokees on their forced removal don’t show them traveling on a road, do they? No, you don’t picture the detachments moving down a road in an organized line like a wagon train in the “Old West.”  Our mental images of the Trail of Tears have been trained to see an onslaught of Indians moving across landscapes broadly, as in this painting. 


Yes, on some landscapes in Missouri, they probably were able to fan-out, at least a little, to find fresh footing for themselves and their horses, or possibly to look for edible greens, or to avoid the manure on the “established” trail, or to try to get a better view of something of interests either near or far.  But regardless of your mental image, generally the detachments walked or rode on an established wagon road, as bad as the roads were at that time.  And in Pulaski County that road was the Springfield to St. Louis Road, a route or corridor of ancient origin used as an Indian trace for trading and travel, and basically continuing today for Interstate Highway 44 and the Frisco Railroad.

Not only was the road there for the Cherokees on their removal, it existed before the earliest American settlers entered the region in the 1810’s.  The usual settlement location was along the road at a major water crossing, as we have seen repeatedly in these monographs.  Why?  Water was an essential resource for the settlers, but it was also necessary for travelers.  Many of these water crossings were the eventual location of a mercantile to resupply the travelers.  Some early settlers established commercial ferries or mills at these locations.  Some of these locations, if on a navigable stream, had the potential added benefit of providing commercial shipping of locally produced products like deer hides or pork hams and of marketing incoming finished or value-added goods like nails and sugar.  Many of these locations also had the best farmland along the valley’s stream.  And eventually many of these locations became towns as settlement advanced westward.  

But there were settlers who were focused primarily on the agricultural value of the land- its potential to raise good crops- above any other consideration including a water crossing, perhaps because of their prior attempts at making a living and raising a family on poor soil.  One of those in the nascent Pulaski County region was Cyrus Colley.  Born in York County, South Carolina, in 1800, he received very little schooling.  Cyrus’s mother died when he was still quite young, so he was bound out to learn blacksmithing.  Poor treatment during that indenture forced him to escape, hopefully to other employment.  He married Elizabeth Howard in Caldwell County, Ky., In 1825, where they lived until they moved to southern Illinois in 1831.  One year later they moved to Missouri, settling near the confluence of two “editions” of the Springfield to St. Louis Road, the “old” and the “new”, as shown on this GLO. (Colley35N12WGLO)  The “new” road traced diagonally across the  North-west quarter of Section 6 of T35N -R12W, where Cyrus’ farm and home were located.  The “old” road was just one-half mile south of his farm, and the roads intersected in the South-west quarter of the same section, as drawn on the GLO.  These two main roads intersecting just one-half mile from Cyrus’ land created an opportunity for trading and merchandising for Cyrus, and apparently fairly quickly facilitated the formation of a small settlement, Colly, as shown on this 1844 Sectional Map of Missouri by Edward Hutawa.


We don’t know what prompted Cyrus and his family to move to Missouri.  His time in Illinois would have been instructive for recognizing fertile crop land, likely very different than Caldwell County, Kentucky.  But he came from a slave state, Kentucky, to a free state, Illinois, and would have learned about the onerous nature of the self-sufficiency required in farming without slaves.  Missouri, being a slave state, ameliorated that problem, if one could afford to purchase slaves.  There are no slave census before 1850, but Cyrus still had slaves in 1850, so perhaps he had enslaved labor during his early years of farming in Missouri.  His long-term solution to the manpower problem was children, of which we know he had 13, several dying in infancy – but most living to adulthood, including 6 boys and 4 girls.  Here is a photo of the Colley family taken late in Cyrus and his wife’s lives. 


Cyrus followed the Springfield to St. Louis Road and settled on the very western frontier of Missouri at the head of a fertile valley with a sufficient water source, but certainly not navigable.  His sons, Andrew and Daniel, along with Cyrus himself, eventually owned a continuous one-quarter mile-wide, mile and one-half long length of that fertile valley that became his namesake – Colley Hollow – as shown on this image. (ColleyHolloarSmall) “Colly Hollow” and the town of “Colly” can be seen on many of the printed plats of the time.  Today in Pulaski County, Colly Hollow is only known as “Colley Holler!”  Don’t make that mistake, or you will be corrected.

Cyrus Colley, as described by Goodspeed, was “a man of great industry and endurance, and had the interests of the county at heart…one of the most enterprising farmers of his time.”   He was respected by his peers, having been elected several times as a county judge, and was respected by other leaders of his time, having been appointed commissioner of the Pulaski County Court to sell the lots in Waynesville, he having assisted in laying out the town.

Why do we include Cyrus Colley in this monograph series about the Trail of Tears in Missouri if we have no documented connection between Colley and the Cannon Detachment?  Over the following 2 years after the Cannon Detachment, in 1838 and 1839, 10,000 more Cherokees traveled that same road Cyrus and the Cannon Detachment traveled, but when they did, Cyrus was there farming a fertile valley, undoubtedly with food and supplies to sell – survival goods for the Cherokees on the Trail of Tears.  Someday, the records may be found to prove that, until then, the story of the road and the people along it during the Trail of Tears tragedy need to be remembered as we strive to be good stewards of the factual history of the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail.     


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